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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/V043617/1
Title: 'Invisible' Solar Technologies from Bio-Inspired Optics
Principal Investigator: Shanks, Dr K
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
ART and ENERGY Fab Foundation (Fab Labs) UK Kernow Coatings Ltd (UK)
Loughborough University Suzhou Talesun Solar Tech Co. Ltd. Swansea University
University of Jaen University of New South Wales Yorkshire Photonic Technology Ltd
Department: Engineering Computer Science and Maths
Organisation: University of Exeter
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 01 January 2022 Ends: 16 July 2025 Value (£): 352,997
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Solar Technology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
14 Jun 2021 Element Fellowship Interview Panel 15, 16 and 17 June 2021 Announced
06 Apr 2021 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 6 and 7 April 2021 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Nature has optimised structures over billions of years through natural selection, a process which will forever exceed any 'trial and error' optimisation routine carried out by ourselves. Engineers can learn much from these achievements. The Cabbage white (Pieris brassicae) and Glasswing (Greta-Oto) butterflies have uniquely lightweight reflective and transparent wings which has been previously proven to be 17x lighter than current optical materials. Solar Concentrators (such as magnifying lenses designed for focusing the suns light) are a developing technology, which can utilise cheap glass or plastic optics to concentrate sunlight onto photovoltaic panels (these Concentrator photovoltaic systems are called CPV systems). These systems can reduce the amount of expensive heavily mined photovoltaic material required whilst maintaining the overall power output. CPV's can however be cumbersome, and so there lies a great opportunity to marry these disciplines of concentrator photovoltaics (optics+Solar panels) and natural lightweight structures (butterfly wing nanostructures) via biomimicry to gain significantly higher power-to-weight ratios for solar energy technology. Renewable energy, integrated into smart grids, buildings, vehicles and surrounding infrastructures, is an important pathway to reducing carbon emissions and advancing a sustainable lifestyle within society. This complex challenge demands interdisciplinary research and innovative design.

This fellowship aims to manufacture novel bio-inspired optics capable of at least tripling the power-to-weight ratio of concentrator solar energy technology. The surface structure of optics has significant effects on the light redirection and absorption. Micro-structured optics and coatings have shown rewards of increased power output and reliability for CPV devices but reduced weight designs require exploring. Fresnel lenses -an already lighter truncated version of convex lenses- only became popular with the discovery of lightweight poly(methylmethacrylate) (PMMA), making them more affordable and practical. This was a breakthrough for CPV in its very early years, and encourages further breakthroughs to entail new weight reduction methods matched to specific concentrator designs, as proposed here. This will be done on a nano, micro and macro level of engineering to obtain optimal performance and ensure outputs and impact. The production of high performing lightweight CPV panels which are more discreet than current PV panels and even invisibly integrated into buildings is the ultimate objective. This fellowship outlines theoretical and experimental methods, with strong focuses on materials and manufacturing characterisation aided by industrial collaboration and exploitation to credit the wide-spread impact of this pioneering research. Interdisciplinary research such as this will provide new solutions and understanding to firstly the disciplines of solar energy, optics, manufacturing, nanotechnology and biology but also branching off to incorporate the public perceptions of energy through collaborations with artists and companies to increase the impact of this research as well as showcasing and encouraging interdisciplinary research itself.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Date Materialised
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Organisation Website: http://www.ex.ac.uk